Last week, DRCNet reported on the latest cannabis policy rumblings from the United Kingdom, as London police announced an experimental program of warning, not arresting, small-time marijuana users and possessors. At the same time, Tony Taylor, proprietor of Tony's Hemp Corner, had gone public with his medical marijuana business, telling the Guardian (London) that he supplied 250 clients and the police did not bother him (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/191.html#londoncannabis). There have been developments on both fronts since then.
If the police were tacitly ignoring Taylor's medical marijuana operation before he went public, they quickly changed their tune. Officers from the Islington police station raided Tony's Hemp Corner five days after he came out of the closet, seizing prepared marijuana and growing plants valued at $100,000, the Guardian reported. Taylor was taken in for questioning, but subsequently released.
Chris Sanders, a member of the Cannabis Coalition who was present during the raid, told the Guardian the police action was "friendly and relaxed."
"The police didn't come busting their way in or anything, it was very softly," he said. "The health food shop downstairs was still open. The police will find plenty of evidence of possession with intent to supply because Tony was completely open about what he was doing. If he is charged it will be a very important test of the courts' resolve to prosecute people supplying cannabis on humane grounds."
Taylor's medical marijuana clients were required to fill out a form, provide a doctor's letter, and undergo an extensive interview with Taylor before being allowed to purchase medipot. Taylor last week told the Guardian police left him alone because they had the sex and cocaine trades to worry about in King's Crossing, a notorious London nightlife area.
Meanwhile, the plan by police in London's Lambeth section to only warn and not arrest minor marijuana law violators beginning next month has garnered the support of the Labor government's home secretary. It also prompted several contenders for leadership of the opposition Conservative party to call for a national debate on the country's marijuana laws.
In a surprise move from Home Secretary David Blunkett, who had described himself as making former Home Secretary Jack Straw, a drug war hardliner, "look liberal," Blunkett gave limited support to the Lambeth initiative. "I am interested in the experiment," Blunkett said on BBC's Breakfast With Frost television program. "I went to talk to [Lambeth police commander] Brian Paddick on the first Tuesday after the election down in Lambeth," Blunkett continued. "I went to visit there and he told me what he was about to do. I said that fits in entirely with the emphasis that I had already announced on placing absolute priority on class A [hard] drugs and on concentrating police resources where they are needed most."
Blunkett did not rule out the possibility that the Lambeth initiative could be extended nationwide if it proves successful. Covering its backside, the Home Office later stressed that the government has "no plans" to legalize marijuana, although it also added that Blunkett thought issuing warnings instead of arresting pot-smokers was an operational decision for police to make.
And now, responding to the press hubbub aroused by the Lambeth police move, opposition conservative party members vying for the Tory leadership are calling for a review of the country's marijuana laws. All four leading contenders for the party leadership called in the last few days for a major national debate on marijuana. David Davis told the Observer (London) that while he personally opposed marijuana legalization, "I do think we should have the debate. There are an awful lot of people -- parents -- who are terrified out there about the truths and myths of drugs, and I think we owe it to them to have the debate so the facts can be aired," he said.
Party rival Duncan Smith also favors a national debate, his spokesman told the Observer. "We must address this situation where for medical reasons people need it," said the spokesman. "No one has put forward the argument to him yet where he would feel that legalization would be right, but the answers are still there to be discussed."
Another Tory leadership hopeful, Michael Ancram, also would support a national debate, the Observer reported.
The remarks by three of his party rivals led frontrunner Michael Portillo to reluctantly weigh in as well. Appearing on Breakfast With Frost a day before Home Secretary Blunkett made his appearance on the program, Portillo said it was "very extraordinary" that politicians wanted to evade addressing the issue. "I don't know what the answer to this is," Portillo said, "but I do believe that if people in politics are to claim to represent the people of the country, they have got to be seen at least to be willing to understand and address issues that people are talking about." Britain needs to engage in "the broadest and most stimulating debate" on marijuana decriminalization, he added.
The third party Liberals, for their part, welcomed what spokesman Simon Hughes called "the Home Secretary's apparent pragmatic response" to the Lambeth initiative.
With these recent pronouncements, British marijuana politics has turned topsy-turvy. The Tories, whose shadow home secretary, Anne Widdicome, articulates a strong anti-drug position, now have four candidates for party leader, all of whom are willing to debate an end to marijuana prohibition. Britain's "liberal" party, the ruling Labour Party, meanwhile, now stands as the only major party officially opposed even to discussing marijuana law reform.